What is thermal electricity?
Thermal comes from the Greek word for heat. Thermal electricity means producing electricity by the action of heat. Thermal power plants burn fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas or oil to produce and use steam to generate electricity.
Broadly speaking, generating electricity from biomass, uranium, solar and geothermal sources also fits within the 'thermal' category because electricity is produced from these sources through the action of heat. The major difference between nuclear power generation and coal or natural gas fired generation is the fuel: nuclear power plants use uranium for fuel, and instead of burning it, they exploit the heat created by nuclear fission in the uranium.
This overview focuses on producing electricity from fossil fuels in thermal power plants that burn coal, natural gas or oil to produce steam and generate electricity. To learn more about other resources that produce electricity by the action of heat, go to the nuclear, bioenergy and solar sections.
Did you know?
- coal, natural gas and oil fuel about two-thirds of global electricity production
- thermal plants produce nearly 10,000 terawatt-hours of power each year
- of this total, about 60 per cent comes from coal-fired thermal plants
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